J.K Simmons On Why Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks Has Been Parodied So Often In Pop Culture Over The Years

 J.K. Simmons in Being the Ricardos.
J.K. Simmons in Being the Ricardos.

Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” the 1942 oil painting depicting loneliness in the big city, is undoubtedly one of the most well-known and parodied pieces of American art of the past century. Over the years, it’s been referenced on The Simpsons, inspired the nearly equally as iconic “Boulevard of Broken Dreams" painting, and even inspired a 2013 Sherlock promo image. But what is it about this simple, yet extremely evocative piece of art that has made it such a big part of pop culture over the past 80 years?

I recently had a conversation with J.K. Simmons, who provides the voice of the famed artist in the PBS documentary American Masters - HOPPER: An American Love Story, and when I asked the Academy Award-winning actor why he felt “Nighthawks” has long been one of the most parodied pieces of American art, he had this to say:

Part of what I think is the simplicity of it, which is easy for any moderately talented visual artist to imitate or portray.

Over the decades, great sci-fi movies like Blade Runner, hilarious family comedies like the Night at the Museum franchise, and comics ranging from The Adventures of Tintin to Peanuts have all drawn from the starkness and depth of the iconic painting, which is something Simmons appreciated about Hopper’s work, stating:

But then if it didn't have, along with that, the sort of starkness in most of his paintings. Depth is the word I keep coming back to about him. That is more difficult to portray, and to me, much more important to why I appreciate the work of him and any visual artist.

After spending close to half an hour speaking with J.K. Simmons, it became clear that he had a great appreciation for the prolific artist at the center of Hopper: An American Love Story. Throughout our conversation, the ripped Red One star commented on being moved by the paintings, as well as the story of the painter’s relationship with wife Josephine Nivison Hopper (voiced by The Gilded Age star Christine Baranski), who could best be described as his manager, partner and biggest supporter.

The documentary, which premiered on the 2024 TV schedule in January, and is currently streaming on the PBS App, does a tremendous job of diving not only into Hopper’s art but also into the partnership he formed with Josephine, one that resulted in the reclusive man of few words becoming an American icon. Hopper: An American Love Story very much dives into the notion that “behind every great man is a greater woman.”

Whether you’re a fan of Edward Hopper, only familiar with “Nighthawks,” or have somehow never heard of the artist or seen his work, Hopper: An American Love Story has something for everyone, as it dives into the man, the myth, and those iconic paintings, drawings, and etchings that made Hopper into an American legend.